Lesbian Paramedic Sues City of Providence, R.I.

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By Patrick Dorrian

Aug. 24 — A lesbian paramedic claims the Providence Fire Department illegally demoted her because she testified on behalf of a lesbian firefighter who successfully sued the Rhode Island city for sex discrimination ( Masse v. City of Providence , D.R.I., No. 1:16-cv-00472, complaint filed 8/24/16 ).

Danielle Masse's complaint said the city “escalated” the “false and retaliatory” disciplinary charges every time she testified or was going to testify in former Providence firefighter Lori Franchina’s case against the city. Franchina’s lawsuit resulted in an $806,000 verdict in her favor.

For example, the department notified Masse, a city employee since 2001, that it was bringing charges against her less than a week after she was disclosed as a witness in Franchina’s case, Masse alleges. Similarly, she was served with notice of her disciplinary hearing just days before she was due to be deposed in Franchina’s lawsuit, Masse says.

The demotion from the rank of captain will cost Masse “hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of her career,” according to her complaint, which was filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island Aug. 24.

Charges Cited Handling of Car Accident

The bogus disciplinary charges stem from Masse’s handling of a single-car accident in December 2014, the complaint says.

According to Masse, she followed protocol in ordering that the driver, who possessed several bags of heroin and appeared to be under the drug’s influence at the time, be taken to the hospital rather than immediately arrested.

A state trooper who was also on the scene disagreed and complained about her handling of the situation. His complaint “went nowhere,” until the city learned that she was going to be a witness in Franchina’s case, Masse says.

Sex, Sexual Orientation Bias Also Asserted

Masse’s complaint also includes claims for gender discrimination, sexual orientation bias and “gender plus sexual orientation” discrimination under federal and state law.

Among other things, she claims her demotion was “far more severe and drastic” than the discipline meted out to at least 25 male employees for similar alleged infractions.

She cites the department’s “well-established” pattern of discriminating against women and lesbian employees. That includes an acknowledged practice of favoring female employees who have sex with male employees, she says.

Male firefighters routinely drink on the job and maintain a “liquor locker” for that purpose, Masse also alleges. Moreover, a male captain who made sexual advances toward a female lieutenant while drunk on the job—including “following her into the ladies room”—was allowed to retire rather than face discipline for his actions, according to Masse.

The news that she was going to be a witness for Franchina caused Acting Chief Scott Mello to say, “We need to get to Masse. We have to nail Masse on this thing,” Masse asserts. Mello then served as judge at her disciplinary hearing just six weeks after sitting in on her deposition in Franchina’s case, she says.

The city of Providence told Bloomberg BNA that it had not been served with Masse's complaint. It declined further comment through a spokesperson Aug. 24.

KJC Law Firm LLC and Law Office of Kevin P. Braga represent Masse. No attorney has yet filed an appearance for the city.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Dorrian in Washington at pdorrian@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at smcgolrick@bna.com

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